My Interview with Morgan Tsvangirai

Ten years ago I interviewed the Zimbabwean Opposition Leader, Morgan Tsvangirai. It was the cover interview of the second ever edition of Total Politics magazine Tonight it was announced he had died, at the age of 65. Here’s the it.

By Iain Dale

You won the election in March. Do you now feel you have been cheated out of the Presidency?

This is not about me. This is not about the MDC. My concern, and that of our party, is that the people’s will has not been respected. It has been ignored. Betrayed. Violently punished. During our March 29 Presidential, parliamentary and local elections, people voted for change at all levels. MDC won resoundingly. We became the majority party in parliament for the first time in Zimbabwe’s history. I won a majority of votes. We took control of all town councils. The issue is not feeling cheated, the real issue is betrayal of the people’s will. The people’s voices have been silenced once again, in some cases forever. The post-election violence is unprecedented in our country.

Will the MDC MPs take their seats after the violence they have suffered?

We are the democratically elected Government having won a majority of seats in March. Despite many of my MPs being attacked and, in some cases, such as that of the Hon Naisson Nemadziva MP for Buhera South, abducted from central Harare this week, we must and will take up our seats in Parliament. My only real concern is that Mugabe’s thugs may actually take even more brutal steps against our MPs to deprive us of our Parliamentary majority. This would seem farfetched in most other countries, but sadly not here.

You have control of the Zimbabwean Parliament. Can you not use your parliamentary power to contain Mugabe?

Robert Mugabe is an illegitimately elected leader who in recent years has paid little regard to the will of Zimbabwean people and the democratic principles in our constitution. This is why the MDC has called for a transitional government to be installed in order that we can form an inclusive government to begin the processes of stabilization and national healing without any interference.

If the MDC comes into power will Zimbabwe still be a governable country?

Never before has Zimbabwe faced a crisis of this magnitude. Never before has Zimbabwe faced the prospect of two starkly contrasting futures. On the one hand, we face the prospect of progress towards a real democracy that offers hope and economic prosperity. On the other hand, Zimbabwe faces a future filled with violent instability and poverty that could infect the whole African continent.

Although we face a crisis today, I am confident that with the continued adherence to peaceful democratic change exhibited by the people of Zimbabwe and the growing alliance of African and other countries, we will be able to heal the currents rifts and steer the country towards a peaceful, stable and prosperous future.

Would you institute your own version of a Truth & Reconciliation Commission?

We have always said we are about healing and restorative justice rather than retribution, but a nation cannot move forward without acknowledging the mistakes of the past. MDC intends to institute a mechanism that allows the many thousands of people who have suffered under this regime the opportunity to forgive, but not necessarily to forget. The nature of the mechanism we choose can only be decided after consultation with the people.

The country has inflation rates of 8 million percent, with 80 percent unemployment. Does MDChave a plan to stabilise and reconstruct the economy?

Yes. Though Zimbabwe currently has the highest inflation rate in the world, there are numerous precedents on how to resolve hyperinflation in the world today. We understand that inflation is a price signal symptomatic of huge imbalances between the usage and availability of products and resources within the country. In that sense, inflation merely signals how much Zimbabwe has been impoverished by the profligacy of the previous government and the acute contraction of the Zimbabwean economy.

There’s not time to go into details here, but MDC policies will seek to reverse both these maladies by significantly reducing government’s claim on resources as well as goods and services. We intend to constitute a government with a smaller number of ministries. Our fiscal policies are deliberately biased towards assistance to the poor and economically vulnerable while at the same time ensuring adequate resources to resuscitate our all economic sectors. Economic empowerment of our black majority remains a high priority to build sustainable prosperity and stability.

Besides money, we will require the skills and ingenuity of our people as well as well-meaning foreign investment partners. Even with the greatest incentives possible, it will not be possible to mobilize our entrepreneurs and attract foreign ones without the restoration of the rule of law and the establishment of a credible government that is trusted by the people. For this reason the MDChas always considered its struggle for political freedom and civil liberties as part and parcel of the struggle for economic prosperity in Zimbabwe.

What kind of international help will be needed to reconstruct Zimbabwe?

It is first important to note that Zimbabwe has no desire to be dependent on foreign aid in any way. To help us out of this crisis, however, we will need four forms of financial assistance from the international community.

Firstly, immediately after forming our government, we will give priority to addressing the humanitarian crisis visited upon our people by the previous government through the mobilization of international aid to feed the hungry, as well as relocate and repatriate the geographically displaced. We will also require aid for the provision of basic infrastructure such the construction and rehabilitation of roads, the provision of primary education and healthcare, as well as to provide adequate inputs, infrastructure and water to agriculture in a bid to restore food security. Such assistance will go a long way towards restoring normalcy of life for the ordinary Zimbabwean citizen.

Secondly, we intend to convene a land commission to deal with the land problem once and for all. Since its inception, the MDC has had an unwavering commitment to a land reform programme that is not only non- partisan, equitable, just and lawful, but also does not dislocate agricultural production and productivity. For a variety of unfortunate reasons, Zimbabwe is still to have such a land reform programme. MDC’s urgent programme will require significant international assistance to provide compensation, rebuild the necessary infrastructure, agricultural finance, inputs as well as extension services.

Thirdly, we will require bilateral and multilateral soft loans to assist with the rehabilitation of key forms of infrastructure such as power generation, our railway system as well as aviation and also for the rehabilitation and retooling of the private sector. This financial assistance will be critical in creating an enabling environment for the recovery of the productive capacity of our economy.

Fourthly, we will need domestic and foreign private investment to foster the growth of the productive sector.

How did the violent attack you suffered in the last year affect you as a politician?

I am just one person amongst thousands who have been attacked by the regime for wanting change. Because of who I am though, my attack brought international attention to the similar or worse plight of thousands of voiceless people. One thing this attack did is make me realise how far this regime is prepared to go to hang on to power.

Do you consider you are now leader of a liberation movement?

Robert Mugabe was a liberation hero. He and others in ZANU and ZAPU liberated us from minority rule, and from colonial oppression. Now, however, we are in the tragic and ironic situation of having to liberate ourselves from the liberator. The people need to be freed again. To that extent, yes, we are a liberation movement, but a peaceful and democratic liberation movement. Different from the Mugabe regime, we will liberate ourselves with ballots, not bullets.

What message would you like to send to African leaders who have given Mugabe their support?

We all used to see Mugabe as a liberation hero, so naturally it is difficult for some to acknowledge the grave mistakes he has made since 1980. Still, the truth is, Mugabe is a liberator who has become an oppressor of his own people. Whilst respecting his contribution to our nation’s history, we know that a majority of African leaders want a peaceful, democratic, prosperous Zimbabwe, not a starving, unstable, inflation-ridden one with millions of citizens fleeing into their own countries.

Where does the MDC go from here?

I have been asked this question many times in the last few days as if the MDC has stopped and is deciding what to do next. Nothing could be further from the truth. From here we keep heading in the same direction that we always have, towards a democratic Zimbabwe. Since the people gave us this mandate when the party was first formed in September 1999, we have never altered course or lost site of the goal.

In parliament and town councils we will launch our Restore Hope Campaign to help rebuild the country. This legislative agenda has five components: 1) healing our nation; 2) restoring the people’s freedoms; 3) restoring the people’s dignity; 4) restoring basic services; and 5) restoring Zimbabwe to the family of nations.

Some of our political structures have been decimated by violence. We currently have 1,573 leaders and members shivering in Zimbabwe jails as political prisoners. One of our first priorities as a party is to free our political prisoners.

Why have you rejected calls to join a Government of National Unity – would you ever consider power sharing?

I and the MDC remain committed to negotiations to end the country’s crisis but these must be based on the March 29 result and must move towards a transitional agreement that would lead to a new constitution and fresh elections. Our commitment to a negotiated settlement is not about power-sharing or power deals but about democracy, justice, fairness and healing the divisions in our country. As we’ve stated before, these urgent talks must be brokered by an expanded AU-SADC mediation team.

Before dialogue is initiated, certain very basic conditions must be in place: Firstly, ZANU-PF must stop the violence against the people of Zimbabwe. The militia base camps must be disbanded. Political persecution must end, with all parties able to move freely, hold meetings and travel in and outside of Zimbabwe without hindrance or intimidation.
What is your message to the people of Zimbabwe and your supporters?

The victory of the people may be delayed but not denied. The will of the people shall prevail. These are not just political slogans. These are solemn commitments. The people of Zimbabwe have shown great courage, resolve and resilience. Millions are silent heroes. Thousands of others are less silent – bold Zimbabweans in civil society, the church and the business community – both within Zimbabwe and in the diaspora – who do not necessarily all support our party but who have bravely spoken out against violence and for the will of the people to be respected. Their selfless commitment to change must be acknowledged. Even facing personal threat, the Zimbabwean people keep believing in peaceful democratic change, yes, even as they are beaten by bicycle chains, iron rods and sticks. My message to these heroes is – your suffering is not in vain. We will finish it. We shall restore hope to our land.

What makes you most proud of being a Zimbabwean?

Despite the terrible atrocities inflicted upon them hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans refused to be cowed. Knowing that Mugabe would declare himself the winner of a sham election they made their protest by either marking the ballot in my favour or by spoiling their ballot paper. This form of silent protest when it is literally putting their life at risk says much about what is so great about the Zimbabwean people.

This magazine is sent to every elected Politician in Britain. Sum up your message to them.

My message to British politicians is the same as I would give to anyone in the world. The Zimbabwean crisis is not a complex one. It is not caused by decades of religious, ethnic or tribal hatred. It is caused by a small group of people that refuse to acknowledge that they have lost the support of the people and are hanging on to power. The Zimbabwean crisis can be solved and it can be solved soon. In the past decade we have been through some terrible times but the next two months are the most crucial in Zimbabwe’s recent history. When we launch our Restore Hope agenda in parliament, you will see the emergence of a New Zimbabwe – a post liberation democratic Zimbabwe.

What would you like to say to the rest of Africa?

The people of Zimbabwe will never forget the debt of gratitude that we owe to our African brothers and sisters who are standing by us in our time of need. Whilst our concern about President Mbeki is well known, we are heartened by the 2 July African Union resolution regarding expansion of the SADC mediation efforts to include the AU. We deeply appreciate the work of the Pan African Parliament, SADC and AU observer missions which each independently determined that the violent conditions of the 27 June one-man Presidential runoff made it impossible for the will of the Zimbabwean people to be expressed credibly, freely or fairly. Related to this, we appreciate that the AU thereafter took cognizance of the African observer missions’ conclusion that the last legitimate election held in Zimbabwe was therefore on 29 March. This is an example where African solutions are being found to African problems by courageous Africans who represent the great future of our continent.

This was first published by Iain Dale blog here